Many of the families staying at those camps left and we returned home when the bombing phase of the war was over. This was the time when Iraq and its infrastructure were fully destroyed, the Coalition Forces withdrew from Iraqi territories, and Saddam’s army was severely punishing all those suspected in having participated in the uprising against its regime. So, as the world well knows today, Iraqi people were crushed and purged twice: once by the barbaric bombings of the Coalition Forces, and then by the retaliation of Saddam’s regime, after the former withdrew from Iraq and left Iraqi people in the hands of the latter. To this day, one of the things that really hurts most Iraqi people is the number of people who have lost their lives, especially after the lie called the “liberation of Iraq”. How can criminals—Western governments—liberate people from another criminal—Saddam? Most of the world doesn’t seem to have learned this lesson to this day, it seems to me. We went all the way back to Kirkuk through the same route.
On the way back, I remember the dead bodies from a close distance when we were walking in the streets of Erbil. I was shocked, devastated, and appalled at what I saw. I stopped in the middle of the street to closely look at one of the dead bodies. It was a man in a military uniform with so much blood around the area of his chest. His face looked grey, as if covered with ashes of cigarettes. His eyes were wide open as if in protest for one last thing he needed to do, say, or see, before his life was put out forever. The body was scary and those images are still vivid in my head as if it was yesterday. My shock increased as we walked faster only to see many more dead bodies in the street. They were everywhere. The horrific scenes of dead bodies, hanged bodies, blood, broken glass, and destruction continued all the way home. We were able to find a bus on its way to Kirkuk, and my mother decided to take us back home. I was sitting next to the window in the bus. In the background I could hear my siblings making noise and talking.
My mother was also chatting with the two women from the family that remained with us throughout entire journey. I was looking through the bus window at the scenes of destruction. I was trying hard to capture each and every image because the scenes were moving fast through the bus window, but there was a strange voice in my head asking me to register what I have been seeing; to capture those ugly scenes of death and destruction into my mind to speak about them for the rest of my life. Perhaps that was the voice of justice in a child’s mind telling him that this is what adults are good at doing in this world, and that I have to refuse the role of becoming an adult like those who practice death and destruction. When we arrived in Kirkuk, we said goodbye to the family, which, like us, was hoping to go home and wait for any thread that may lead them to know about their father’s destiny. We knew that we were going to see each other soon, but the goodbye was still sad because of the context in which we met them and all that we had gone through together.
On the way home, the neighborhoods looked empty; the streets looked like they were all assassinated. When we arrived home, our house looked dry though it was spring time. My dad was there. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. My mom said that it was the second time (the first was when my oldest sister was born). Seeing him again was too hard to believe. After our long, tiresome, and scary journey, it was hard to believe that the family was reunited again. He told us that he had gone through times that were even worse than ours. Most of the people who were with him ran away when the bombing intensified. He found himself with a couple of his mates out of nowhere.
They walked for days and nights without any food. They had to drink rainwater from dirty ditches to survive. Before they became close to Kirkuk, they passed through many villages. In one village, they talked with some strangers who provided them with shelter, water, and food. Strangers, once again, had proved to be kind and caring. One of the unforgettable things was that, as he passed through another village, one kind villager gave him a pot of yogurt for the rest of his journey, but he did not eat it. He wanted to come home as soon as possible to find out what had happened to us. In case we were still alive, he wanted us to enjoy the yogurt with him. We did. For that time, and under those circumstances, it became the yogurt of life.
Today, after 25 years have passed since the First Gulf War crimes against humanity, the world is at its worst and humanity doesn’t seem to have learned any lessons from it whatsoever. Why do I bother writing all this, you may ask me? Although, deep inside, I feel that all my writing is no more than words written on the walls of indifference, I still want to bear witness to what happened. I still hope that there are people left around this world who will read this testimony and whose hearts, minds, and homes will become like shelters to protect these stories from being totally forgotten and erased from humanity’s short and awful memory. I still hope that one day the seeds of my alphabet will grow and bloom creating a more tolerable world to live in.
“I will never forget seeing what hate can destroy…
I will never forget seeing what love can heal…” ― Steve Maraboli